Do manners HAVE to be taught, or can we expect them to eventually be "learned"?

Jackie - posted on 04/13/2010 ( 21 moms have responded )

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So I am sure we all agree that you can't "expect" a pre-schooler to know and understand table manners, social courtesies etc. But what about an older child?? Hard to put a specific cut off on whats to old/to young, but do you think older children should and are able to just pick up on table manners eventually? Basically based on what they see, how others act, reactions they get etc. Or if the parents never bother to teach them is it always considered "not their fault they weren't taught"? Essentially should the child ever have to take responsibility for their own actions and if so...when?

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Emma - posted on 04/14/2010

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I think your kids copy what they see you do, if you have no manners you are unlikely to have kids with any. no matter what you tell them if they watch you do deferentially.

I realised when teaching my daughter about please and thank you how little my husband and i actually used them with each other and we made a concious effort to always say them.

We take our kids to other peoples houses and shopping they know they can look but not touch unless they are given permission.

They are only 2 and 3 and sit at the table properly to eat dinner,

They also know not to interrupt when you are talking unless it is smoothing important.

We take them to eat out and they behave better than many adults,



i think they learn faster if you lead by example as they will see good manners as normal not something you have to make an effort to do.

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Brandi - posted on 04/19/2010

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Put simply, parents have to set an example and when they don't see their children following that example, they need to enforce their rules accordingly. It's a healthy mix, imo.

Amber - posted on 04/17/2010

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@ Amanda H. I completely agree about people cursing! It drives me crazy when we are in a public place and people are cursing for my child to hear!
And we're definitely hypocritical haha. I always try to catch myself, but it definitely happens. All kids have bad days and all moms judge on some level.. :)

Amber - posted on 04/17/2010

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We started working on manners with my child as soon as he started learning to talk. He is now three and rarely ever forgets to say please, thank you, or your welcome. He also says excuse me every time he burps or farts. He also says excuse me if somebody is talking and he needs to asks a question.
We have never punished him for forgetting to say or do any of these things. We simply encouraged him to act that way and have always done that ourselves. We always get compliments on how well behaved he is. I find it offensive when people tell me how "lucky" we got because our child behaves. I worked hard to make sure he had those values. So I definitely believe that it is taught.

Amanda - posted on 04/16/2010

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I agree with most of you on this. My son is told constantly to say thank you, your welcome, sorry, etc. BUT I also make sure I tell people these same things, whether he's within ear range or not, that's just how I am and how I was raised. It drives me crazy at dinner when people don't take their hats off, or a young couple are next to you cussin like crazy, or when people have their elbows on the table haha. My mom used to fork us in the elbow if she caught ours on the table. We tried the whole laying down or resting on an arm at the table, DIDNT HAPPEN... lol Now it's a huge pet peeve of mine too, thanks Mom lol.. Little man already knows better than to do that, haha.. I push them off and tell him to keep them off the table whenever he tries. Hes usually very good out at restaraunts, but of course, every once in a while, we get to be that family who's kid is acting up and just doesn't want to be there lol. I feel so bad, because I get irritated sometimes when I see that kid at someone else's table, but then when it's my own I get pissed when I see someone make a comment about my son, hah. I think all mom's are hypocritical on things like that when it comes to their own kids, although I've gotten WAY more understanding since I had a kid.

C. - posted on 04/16/2010

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I think any kind of manners should be taught. You can't just expect your kid to "pick it up" with time. If you never correct them, how will they know?

Jackie - posted on 04/16/2010

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haha, schedule, tha'ts a good one. This woman is TOTALLY useless. She still hasn't cut the cord, he's 14 going on 4, no social skills, very few manners, wicket mommas boy. All he does is run home and cry to her, so I can't even open my mouth or drama ensues. SO it's a lose lose battle for me...so I just keep my thoughts and comments to myself and luckily can vent to my friends. So these issues can't be approached in any type of "logical" manner as you would normally think.

[deleted account]

Old habits are really hard to break, especially for kids/teens.
Could you try rewarding him? Like if he gets through a whole meal without any reminders he doesn't have to help clear the table or clean the kitchen?
Or try eliminating one bad behavior at a time--maybe remembering all of them is overwhelming, so pick out the 1st one you want to end and write it on his Napkin, like "Keep head off the Table" then every time he goes to put his head down, he will see the napkin.
One other thing that could be causing problems, but this is just a guess. If she doesn't hold him to good manors, do you think she keeps any structure/schedule at all? Sometimes a lack of structure can interfere with a child's memory, or he could be very tired and laying his head down to rest.

Jackie - posted on 04/16/2010

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No he'll listen if you ask him to do it. And yes, no manners with mom, good guess =) But I don't know, head on the dinner table (both at restaurants and home), along with other VERY BASIC manners...this shouldn't have to be reminded if you ask me, so I just have no tolerance for it. And I've been with my husband for almost 5 years, and he still hasn't gotten it.

[deleted account]

lol, Jackie! Well, the only tip I have is that we argue via email now so he can't interrupt me. I actually like it b/c I get less emotional, but the arguments do last longer....

Anyway, about the boy. I think for me it would depend on how he responds to the "reminders." If he puts his head on the table, for instance, and you say "Please keep your head off the table." and he picks up his head and says "sorry", I think it's safe to say he is genuinely forgetting. You said (I think, forgive me if I read it wrong, it's late) that he is with his mom during the week and is only held to good manors at his fathers house, I'm assuming on weekends. If that is the case, he goes the whole week living in a place where apparently no manors are present--I have honestly never in my life seen someone put their head on a dinner table!! Why would he do that?? If he is away from anyone using manors the entire week, then is expected to use them on weekends, it may take a long, long time before using manors is automatic, but don't give up! Just keep gently reminding him. Eventually he'll get it, but if you start punishing him for not using them when he really has just forgotten, I think it might discourage him from using them and you will give him a way and a reason to annoy you.

Now, if he puts his head on the table and you politely ask him to lift it and he refuses, then that calls for some discipline.

Jackie - posted on 04/14/2010

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I completely see where you are coming from Fiona, esp. given the way your mother posed it. However, in my family (both immediate and extended to include pretty much all adults in my life) manners are not posed as something you can "chose to use". Manners have always been expected, and that is the way each generation has raised their children. I personally dont' see manners as something that should be optional, esp. not for a child that directly reflects on me. I mean if someone wants to go out on their own as an adult and look rude on purpose more power to them, but when my child is with me she will be expected to act appropriately.

But as far as knowing better, I do agree learning is a constantly evolving thing. I am not talking about knowing how to handle a formal dinner table setup at the age of 14, I am talking about "knowing better" when it comes to not eating with your hands, and using your napkin. I just don't see how by the age of 14 that these basic manners should still fall under the still learning category. That's basic stuff that your average 4 year old can follow through with in most situations.

And I do agree some teenagers will know the right thing and do it on purpose just b/c of their age....that's another conversation entirely. In this one particular situation I really do not believe that to be the case though. He hasn't reached the maturity of your average teenager at all yet, so isn't in that defiant JUST to tick you off stage that is oh so pleasant =)

[deleted account]

In teaching us manners, my mother always said that if we choose not to use them that is up to us, but if/when we choose to or need to use them then at least we will know what to do. Teenagers are wilful and will resist direction if they want to. They may 'rebel' by acting inappropriately whether it be a conscious decision or not. Manners are wonderful tools for interacting in society and for easing social situations, but they are also tools if you are trying to get a rise out of someone in a social situation or if you are trying to assert your difference or dislike of a social situation. It is possible that this teenager knows what manners are expected of him despite not being taught them and he is either deliberately not using them or that he is so consumed with the minutiae of adolescence that he cannot be bothered. It is also entirely possible that he isn't certain of the appropriateness of behaviour in certain situations because he wasn't taught manners and therefore he struggles to comprehend all that is expected of him.

Even children who are taught manners and see them in action may need gentle reminders every now and then. To say he "should know better" implies you think he has reached a stage where he has stopped needing to be taught, to say he "doesn't know better" implies he cannot still be taught. I think people are always learning about social mores and manners depending on the situations they are in. I think there is no point putting an age limit on when children should have to take responsibility for their actions regarding manners, because each individual will modify their behaviour and act on their awareness of appropriate behaviour when they personally feel it is necessary. That is the joy of free will, we cannot impose our expectations on others, even if they are our children. All we can do is teach them well and hope they choose to listen when it really matters.

Jackie - posted on 04/14/2010

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and Kelly...my husband is the EXACT same way with the conversational etiquette....it drives me insane!!!! Any tricks of how to deal with it? =)

Jackie - posted on 04/14/2010

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I def. agree with all of you ladies that manners are of the UTMOST importance, and starting from a very very young age. There is nothing more enjoyable than seeing a toddler with good manners I must say. And I do try to make it a point to complement the parents of those children for doing such a good job b/c sadly it is few and far between. So we all agree ideally a younger child needs to see it in action and be taught it.

So what about my other question. Lets take the children of parents who can't be bothered to teach manners...fast forward to let's say adolescence (just for the sake of nailing down an age to discuss, and b/c the person who sparked this thread is 14). So not taught manners very well at all beyond the BARE minimum of please and thank you. Eats with hands frequently, wipes face on shirt, puts head down on table (even in restaurants!) etc etc etc.

Is that "ok" simply b/c "it's not his fault, he was never taught", or by the age of 14 do you think its fair to say he should know better? Keep in mind he is given reminders, as would most people when with adults other than their parents, (more than once) when at his fathers house, but continually does it???

I personally do not buy the excuse anymore of he wasn't taught, he is a teenager, and has been told more than once it is rude...so really...how is there possibly an excuse to still do stupid things like not use your silverware. I just don't buy the whole "he doesn't know better" argument, he is not 4. And I guarantee you can say something only once that has to do with a video game and it will be etched in his head...so saying something once should be enough.

[deleted account]

I agree with Emma. Manners are learnt mostly from copying your parents. However, I've found one person who's an exception to the rule - my husband. He has great manners yet his parents and siblings don't seem to even know how to say thank you. I think it is best to be taught manners at an early age but they can just be picked up with age - my husbands only 20.

Melissa - posted on 04/13/2010

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I don't think a child is going to learn manners if their parents don't lead by example. A parent could tell their child all they want to say please and thank you, but unless they themselves say it, the children will have to be coaxed everytime. I think the same goes for table manners and such. But I also think that if you model it, without teaching it, they will catch on. It will be norm for them, whether they were 'taught' or not.

Stephany - posted on 04/13/2010

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That have to be taught, and the sooner the better, IMO. Both of my kids (ages 4 and 2 1/2) say please, thank you, you're welcome, etc., and they both know how to sit at a table and how to offer to help. They ahve learned all of this in spite of the fact that my oldest is autistic (verbal, though), and my youngest has several developmental delays. I have a lot more to teach them, obviously, but what I have taught them will serve as a good foundation for what is to come. I can't tell you how many times people have complimented me and my husband on our sons' manners. Manners never go out of style, and knowing what to do and how to act in a social environment takes away one source of stress for a lot of people.
IMO, expecting them to learn by example rather than actually being taught would be like thinking that they can become potty trained by watching other people and never being led to a toilet.

[deleted account]

I think they have to be taught. My husband was not taught very good conversational etiquette (he constantly interrupts people, and zones out if he is not very interested in the conversation).
He uses the excuse that he was not taught, but I think as adults it is time to step up take responsibility and learn for himself--I've even tried to teach him, but he says it is ingrained into him.

As for table manors, I find less and less people are teaching their children proper etiquette for the table. At a wedding last month, several teenagers were laughing at the silver b/c they hadn't been taught what utensils to use at what course and thought the caterer had just put out too many! They also didn't understand where to put their glasses back down so they kept getting confused and picking up each other's glasses! ugh. My son is 5 and he knows where to put his glass--how difficult is it?!?

Kristin - posted on 04/13/2010

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They need to be taught, but I do believe allowances have to be made for development. I do not expect a child that can barely manage a fork to know to use his salad fork for the salad. I started teaching mine common curtesies like please, thank you, and you're welcome from the point where communication became more obvious (like they were expressing likes, dislikes, and wants). Even a 2 year old can manage to sit at the table for a 10 minute dinner if you make it manageable.

Much of what they do will be copied from their parents. That is a start though, for anything beyond some needs to be taught. There are things we let slide at home that would be unacceptable in another's home (think grandma or great grandma) or a restaurant.

I always get a bit of a laugh when I hear a parent griping about how rude some kid is when theirs is doing something similar or worse. If we want it to be better, we have to teach them better and set a good example.

Jessica - posted on 04/13/2010

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I think that they definatly need to be taught! A good majority of the kids i see today have no damn manners, that will not be my kid!

LaCi - posted on 04/13/2010

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I think that they will typically model the parents etiquette. I also think it's good to offer helpful reminders, not necessarily criticism, just reminders when they're doing something less classy than you'd like. I also don't really care about etiquette, people's table manners rarely phase me as long as the food in their mouth stays in the mouth and nothing gross gets on me or my food.... My boyfriend will probably be more interested in his manners than I will.

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